The room was cold and sterile. Quincy had never been in a police station before. He was nervous. There was a video camera in the corner above the door, and a mirror to his left. The only furniture in the room was a square metal table and four metal chairs; one of which Quincy occupied. It reminded him of the simple, wooden table and chairs in his aunt and uncle’s kitchen.
When the door crept open, Quincy placed his hands in his lap and sat up straight. A woman entered the room. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun. She wore a black shirt, blue jeans, and white tennis shoes. Her arms were strong, but not big and strained by muscle like the arms of the men Quincy had seen working out at the gym near his aunt and uncle’s house.
The woman looked at Quincy and smiled. There was kindness in her green eyes. “Hello,” she said as she approached the table. “I’m Detective Jimenez. My friends call me Rosie.” She put a can of Coke and a cupcake wrapped in plastic on the table in front of Quincy. “Are you hungry?” she asked as she took the seat across from him.
“Um,” Quincy said, eyeing the treats. The sight of the perfectly shaped, chocolate cupcake made his mouth water. He fidgeted with his hands in his lap. “I, um… I don’t know?” was the best he could muster.
Detective Jimenez gently pushed the treats toward him. “You look hungry,” she said. “Go ahead. Take them. These are for you.”
His stomach rumbled as he tried to remember the last time he’d eaten. His aunt was already in the kitchen when he had come downstairs that morning, so he hadn’t eaten breakfast, and he remembered going to bed without dinner, and he’d spent almost all of yesterday lying in his hole. He decided his last meal was breakfast, yesterday morning.
Quincy and the detective sat in silence as Quincy eyed the cupcake. Finally, the pain in Quincy’s empty stomach took charge. He snatched the cake, tore open the wrapper, and filled his mouth with the chocolate. To his surprise, there was a creamy filling inside the pastry. It was smooth on his tongue. The sugar hurt his teeth, but Quincy didn’t care. He’d never tasted anything so amazing.
Detective Jimenez reached toward him and opened the can of Coke for him. Quincy took a second large bite of the cake, chewed furiously, and then took a long swig of the soda. It was warm. The acid stung the back of his throat and burned his gums. He loved the sensation. He finished the cake with a final bite, and took another drink of from the can. His stomach rumbled with painful delight.
“Do you mind if I ask your name?” Detective Jimenez said.
Suddenly remembering the detective was in the room, Quincy sat up straight again and put his hands in his hands back in his lap. He could hear his aunt’s voice echo in the back of his mind. “You look like a damn slob. Sit up straight, damn it. Put your nasty hands in your lap, you disgusting pig. You’re such a fucking, little pig.”
“My name’s Quincy, ma’am,” Quincy said to the detective.
“It’s nice to meet you, Quincy. Would you like more to eat?” the detective asked.
“No, ma’am. Thank you,” Quincy said.
“You can call me, Rosie,” she said with a smile. “All my friends call me Rosie. Do you have a last name, Quincy?”
Quincy remembered the growl of his uncle’s deep voice. He heard it clearly, as if his uncle were in the room. “You ain’t nothin’ but shit. You hear me, shit-boy. That’s your goddamn name. Shit-boy. ’Cause you’re nothing but a little piece of shit that stinks up my house.”
“Marshall, ma’am,” Quincy said to the detective. “My name is Quincy Marshall.”
“That’s a strong name,” the Detective said. “I like that name. Would you mind telling me how old you are?”
Quincy remembered his uncle sneer. He could hear the gravel in his uncle’s voice that became more pronounced as his uncle’s anger built. “You know the worst fucking year in history, shit-boy? Two-thousand-three. And you know why that year sucks ass? Because that’s the fucking year you were fucking born, you little piece of shit.” Quincy remembered looking at his bare feet, and then the feel of his uncle’s breath above him. “Don’t look away from me, you bastard,” his uncle’s voice roared. Quincy’s cheek stung with the memory of his uncle’s heavy fist. He recalled the feeling of the wood floor catching his fall, and then the darkness of his uncle’s shadow hovering over him. “Go to your fucking hole,” his uncle barked. “Go get in your fucking hole you little shit.”
Quincy took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. He knew it was 2016. “I’m twelve,” he said to the detective after finishing the math. “Yeah, twelve. Or maybe thirteen.”
“That’s a good age. So you are in the seventh grade? Or eighth grade?” the detective asked.
“Did you live with the Brooks?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, nodding again. Quincy reached forward and took another sip from the Coke. He held the sweet, warm liquid in his mouth, savoring the sensation of fire it created.
“Were Mr. and Mrs. Brooks your parents?”
“Your mother was a whore,” his aunt’s voice rumbled in his mind. “She was a dirty, nasty, crack-head whore who fucked the whole neighborhood.”
“They were my aunt and uncle,” Quincy said to the detective. “They took care of me after my mom died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that your mom died. That must have been hard,” Detective Jimenez said.
“I was little then,” Quincy said.
“How long have you lived with your aunt and uncle?” the detective asked.
Quincy looked at the ceiling again, trying to remember.
“Fucking hell,” Quincy remembered his uncle yelling. “When the fuck are you going to die, you little piece of shit? Why do you keep coming downstairs every fucking morning? Eight fucking years of your goddamn face. Just go lay in your fucking hole and die. Goddamn it.”
“I think eight years,” Quincy said, biting his lip.
“Where do you go to school?” the Detective asked.
“They don’t want little bastard-boys like you at school,” his aunt laughed. Quincy remembered the taste of blood in his mouth after she smacked him across the face. “I told you sit up straight, you little bastard. Sit up straight,” his aunt screamed, just before she hit him again.
“I’m home schooled,” Quincy said to the detective.
“Okay,” Detective Jimenez said. She leaned back in her chair. “Do you have any other family? Is there anyone we can call to tell them you’re here?”
Quincy heard his aunt’s shrill yell. “No one wants you, you son-of-a-whore! No one fucking wants you!”
“No, ma’am,” Quincy said. “I don’t… I don’t think so.”
Detective Jimenez sat forward and rested her arms on the table. “You said your mom is gone. Do you know anything about your dad? Maybe we could call him?”
Quincy heard his uncle’s laugh. “You father could be any one of those fucks down there at that gym, but they ain’t gonna claim your shit-ass. They don’t want you. Nobody wants your fucking, worthless ass.”
Quincy felt his eyes fill with tears. “I don’t… I don’t know him, ma’am,” he said to the detective. He swallowed, pushing down the stream of sorrow and pain that wanted to burst from him.
“Don’t you cry, you fucking baby,” his aunt raged as she stomped on his hand. “Don’t you fucking cry.”
The detective reached across the table and put her hand on Quincy’s shoulder. Quincy flinched. “You’re safe here,” Detective Jimenez said, looking in his eyes. “Don’t worry,” she said. “No one is going to hurt you. You’re safe.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, still fighting back tears.
“You don’t need to worry,” the detective said again. “We’re going to find someone to take care of you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Quincy said.
The detective withdrew her hand and sat back in her chair. “Can I ask you a question, Quincy?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Quincy said again. He could feel the tears going away. He reached forward for the soda, and took another sip. The burning liquid made him feel strong.
“It’s about where the officers found you today,” she said.
“They said they found you lying in a grave? In your back yard?”
“Go lie in your fucking hole,” his aunt’s voice raged. “You little piece of shit. You’d be worth more dead. Go lie in your fucking hole. And pray to god that I don’t come out there and bury your fucking, worthless ass.” Quincy remembered how her voice would fade as he crawled into the pit. “You bastard. Stay in that hole, you little bastard.” He remembered the cold, wet mud around him. He remembered feeling safe. She couldn’t reach him there.
“Yes, ma’am,” Quincy said to the detective. “They found me in my grave.”
“It’s your grave?” the detective said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Quincy replied.
Detective Jimenez watched him in silence. Her eyes made him uncomfortable. He looked down into his lap and fidgeted with his hands.
“Did you lie in that grave a lot?” she asked.
“You can lie in that fucking hole all day for all I care, you worthless piece of shit,” his uncle screamed from the house.
“Yes, ma’am,” Quincy answered the detective.
“That’s terrible,” Detective Jimenez said. “I’m so sorry.”
Quincy remembered watching earth-worms poke through the walls of his hole. He remembered the stars above him and the cool breeze at night. He remembered the cold, refreshing feeling of rain on his face, and the comfort of puddles growing around him. “It wasn’t so bad,” he said to the detective.
“Were you lying in your quiet place this morning, when the explosion happened?”
Quincy remembered the flash of heat that filled hit pit as the blaze passed above him. He heard the boom of the explosion echoing off the walls of his grave. He saw debris fly through the sky above him. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I was in there when it happened.”
“I’m sorry to tell you, Quincy,” the detective said, leaning forward. “Your aunt and uncle were both inside when the house exploded. They died in the fire. We think there was a gas leak of some kind. I’m so sorry.”
Quincy played through the morning in his mind. He came down stairs and sat at the kitchen table next to his aunt, his back straight, and his hands in his lap. She had took a long drink from the glass of whiskey in front of her. She was still wearing the dress she’d left the house in last night.
“Good morning little bastard,” his aunt said as she lit the cigarette clutched in her teeth. She took a long drag, and blew the smoke in his face. She laughed, reached over to his knee, and shoved the burning end of the cigarette into his blue jeans. At first Quincy only felt the warmth, but quickly the fire from the cigarette seared a hole through his jeans and found the skin of his leg. He bit his tongue to stifle his scream. She laughed again. Her voice was rough, like she’d been laughing all night.
Quincy’s uncle stumbled into the room, and collapsed into the chair across the table from Quincy. “Ah fuck this,” the large man said, rubbing his eyes with both hands. Quincy could tell his uncle was battling a hangover again. “Just go to your fucking hole,” his uncle growled. “I don’t want to see your fucking face this morning. I ain’t got the patience for it. Just go to your fucking hole.”
Quincy stood, and walked toward the back door. The new burn on his knee ached with each step. When he reached the gas stove, he paused, and chanced a look over his shoulder at his caretakers. Their eyes were closed as they struggled through the consequences of another drunken evening. Quincy looked down at the old stove. He could see the small blue pilot light flickering under the burners. Gently, softly, he bent down and blew it out. Then, before opening the back door and going to his grave, he turned the burner’s dial to high.
“Are you okay, Quincy?” Detective Jimenez asked. “Did you understand what I said? Your aunt and uncle are gone. They died in the explosion. I’m very sorry.”
Quincy looked the detective in the eye. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said; then he reached forward, picked up the soda, and finished the final sip, savoring again the burning feeling in his mouth.
— — — — — — — — —
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